When opportunity presented itself, the entrepreneur behind this growing company seized his chance to help people save money while improving their homes.
One of the benefits of the pandemic is that most people are taking a closer look at their lives, setting priorities, and paying attention to what needs to be done around the house. And with so many people out of work or working less, saving money is a top priority.
That’s where Greenlink Energy Solutions, 3020 Forest View Road, Rockford, can help customers to save money by looking at how energy is being used – and wasted – in the home.
Greenlink specializes in what owner Austin Carr calls a “360 approach,” which means a thorough inspection of the house from the inside out, including all cooling and heating equipment. The goal is to see if there are issues that can affect comfort level and air quality, avoid mold and mildew, and reduce energy costs.
“With people being home more and many companies shifting to letting people work at home, we have seen a tremendous increase in our workload,” he says. “Since the pandemic, we have hired eight people.”
Serving a wide radius around northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, Greenlink provides homeowners with a free visual inspection that takes up to 45 minutes. A more complete energy audit includes further testing to detect leaks and problems with a home’s heating and cooling, insulation and ventilation. That process can take up to 3 hours.
Greenlink, which employs about 20 people, does its own inspections and tests, then consults with heating and air conditioning professionals to install the right-sized furnace and air conditioners.
Greenlink added a solar division to the business about a year-and-a-half ago. The business is also in the process of developing a new website to better explain the “360 approach.”
“We’re not looking at just one piece of the puzzle,” says Carr. “We want the proper solutions for customers by looking at everything. When it comes to energy, you want to maximize efficiency in every way possible, and the level of detail we go into is very unique.”
Carr’s strategy is to first make energy-efficiency repairs and replacements before addressing solar and other renewable sources of energy. This will help to achieve the greatest benefit and cost savings, he says.
The inspection begins with technicians looking at windows and doors to make sure they are properly installed and sealed. Walls are examined to check for proper insulation and air gaps. The mechanical systems in the home play an important role in keeping the temperature comfortable and the air safe to breathe. Malfunctions, such as deep cracks in a furnace’s heat exchanger, can cause carbon monoxide to leak out.
The energy audit includes a Blower Door Test that can pinpoint structural defects in a home by measuring the air flow. The test helps to uncover air leaks and other issues that might cause uneven heating or cooling. The audit also checks the performance and functioning of the heating and cooling systems, how well the insulation performs, and if there are any issues with the duct work and ventilation. The test relies on a scientific method that’s required for many green buildings and energy-efficient building standards nationwide.
According to the Greenlink website, 90 percent of all homes are under-insulated. Even if a home was adequately insulated when built, the insulation can settle and be less effective over time. Upgrading insulation is one of the top ways to cut energy costs and make a home more comfortable year-round, Carr says.
The company uses foam insulation to get into tight spots and seal all cracks. Cellulose insulation wraps around pipes and other building elements and is made from recycled paper, making it a “green” home product. This type of insulation is also durable, resistant to mold, and absorbs sound, making the house quieter.
Air sealing will stop leaks around windows, doors, walls and other openings. According to Energy Star, the average home leaks the same amount of air as if a window were open all day and night. Leaky windows and doors should either be repaired or replaced, Carr says.
“It is possible that a house is too airtight, but that doesn’t happen by accident,” he adds. “The rule of thumb is to keep the house as airtight as possible, while getting fresh air into the home intentionally, not because there is air escaping.”
The last place most homeowners look, and the first place Greenlink inspects, is the attic.
“The biggest and most hidden problems in homes are found in the attic because people don’t see what’s up there and are unaware,” he says. “There can be inadequate insulation and ventilation problems that cause moisture and mold to collect. A lot of times, people don’t even realize they have a problem.”
The best attics are well-insulated and have proper ventilation, with exhaust fans pumping air outside of the home and attic fans pulling hot air out of the attic. Adequate ventilation also keeps air moving through the space.
Winters can be harsh in northern Illinois, with heavy snowfall and below-freezing temperatures. This makes ice dams an especially common problem for homeowners.
Ice dams form along the edges of a roof when heat from the attic raises a roof’s surface temperature above freezing. This causes accumulated snow and ice to melt and flow down the eaves, where it refreezes and prevents any snowmelt from draining off.
More than a nuisance, ice dams can cause significant damage to the attic, insulation, ceilings and walls. Many homeowners first notice them when large icicles are hanging from the eaves.
In recent years, renewable energy has dropped in price and grown in demand because it provides an alternative to fossil fuel energy, lowers energy costs, increases property values, taps into an abundant source of power and provides greater energy independence. Homeowners can still qualify for federal tax rebates and incentives for switching over to solar power.
Renewable energy includes wind, solar, biomass and geothermal systems that produce little or no carbon emissions. These “clean” sources of energy have considerable health benefits, as they promote better air quality and environmental health.
Carr opened his business in 2011 after spending four years in the U.S. Army. A Rockford native, he received his training and certification through the Building Performance Institute (BPI), one of the nation’s certification and standard-setting organizations for home performance professionals.
Long before then, he’d had experience with heating and cooling systems thanks to his father, Randall Carr, owner of Carr’s Refrigeration, in Rockford.
In the military, the younger Carr observed some of the equipment he was using was solar powered, and he found it piqued his interest in renewable energy. When he finished his tour of duty, Carr worked for a company that contracted with community weatherization assistance programs, which offer home upgrades to improve energy efficiency for low-income people.
On the job one day, a passerby stopped and asked if he could have his home inspected, and it sparked an idea in Carr’s mind.
“I just felt there was a need for a company that could service all people wanting to address energy issues in their homes,” he says. “There needed to be someone who could educate them about home improvements that save money.”
Greenlink has been at its current location for about six years and is planning to expand in the Rockford area, either by moving to a bigger building or adding onto the existing structure. Meanwhile, the business recently opened a satellite office in Madison, Wis., and expects to open another near Chicago in the not-too-distant future.
To schedule an appointment for a free visual inspection or other services offered by Greenlink, call the office at (779) 774-3378.